Week 6: Denise Uyehara

Instead of holding regular class during this week’s scheduled time, we had a mandatory field trip to Pitzer College for Denise Uyehara’s artist talk.  Prior to the actual trip, I had no preconceived notions of Denise Uyehara; I had never heard of her or her work, which left me completely in the dark about what to expect.  All I knew was that she was an Asian American artist and that she was giving a talk about her performance art.  But what is performance art?  It was a concept completely foreign to me, and I had never seen or heard of it before; I was in for a nice surprise at Denise Uyehara’s talk.

Due to the distance of the talk’s location and the traffic around the talk’s time, I arrived a bit late to the performance and missed her introduction.  But the rest of her performance talk captured my complete attention.  Everything she did garnered a reaction from me; there was not a single moment when I felt uninterested or bored.  There was one piece that left the biggest impression on my mind and that was the video recording of her Okinawa interactive performance, called The Senkotsu (Mis)translation Project

During her talk, Denise Uyehara revealed that she is of half Japanese and half Okinawan descent.  Though Okinawa was a colony of Japan, it has a rich individual history and culture separate from Japan.  During World War II, the Battle of Okinawa was fought on the island, which killed over a quarter of the native population.  The island was devastated by this dramatic decrease in numbers and eventually became a US military base in 1972.  Taking from the rich and diverse history of Okinawa, Denise Uyehara created an interactive performance piece that represented the sorrow and despair of the Okinawan people, titled The Senkotsu (Mis)translation Project. We were only shown the video taping of this piece, but watching the recording was more than enough for us to understand the performance.  The project begins with an ice cube, suspended in air by wire, slowly melting and dripping in complete darkness.  Following the ice cube, the recording cuts to a scene with several ominous figures, dressed in traditional Okinawan clothing and painted completely white from head to toe.  These figures crouch down, picking up and examining bones from the floor.  Against a translucent sheet placed in front of these figures, images of US military occupation are projected.  The audience was then invited to interact and touch the bones displayed; they were encouraged to rearrange and manipulate the bones into various specified shapes.  After the audience was done with the bones, they were guided to the (Mis)translation machine, where they could whisper something in one end and would receive a message through the other. With the expert use of lighting and sound, the entire project was given an eerie feeling, alluding to the dark, violent history of Okinawa.  I was enthralled by the creepiness and uncomfortable feel of her project; this was a piece that challenged the audience to reach out of their comfort zones and into reality. 

Evelyn Pei — #83257157


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